Distraction-Free Writing with WriteRoom

When you first get an iPhone, typing on a touchscreen feels very novel and new, but after a dozen or so text messages, the novelty wears off. Typing on the iphone can quickly become a frustrating experience, and until (if ever) the iPhone integrates an alternative typing system (like Swype for Android), we’re stuck trying to make the best of a bad situation.

The default writing environments, such as Notes or Mail, don’t make matters easier with their cluttered interfaces and small writing spaces. WriteRoom by Hog Bay Software is an attempt to make writing on your iphone into a less painful experience, adding features such as full screen writing and cloud sync. Read on to find out if WriteRoom can make writing on your iphone less of a chore!

Writing in WriteRoom

When you open up a new document in WriteRoom, the app looks like any other iPhone writing environment, with the status and header bars at the top. You can go full-screen by pinching open (the standard “zoom” gesture), and edit a previously created document by double-tapping. To lock the orientation of your iPhone, shake your phone until the dialog box comes up.

From here, writing in WriteRoom is much like you would expect: there are no distractions — and no features. There are no text formatting options, and the top menu can only be accessed when you pinch closed to exit full-screen mode. You can access document and sharing options by hitting “done” on the menu bar, and then clicking the “share” button. This brings up a menu that lets you delete, rename or email a document, or view statistics (such as word and character count). I’m not sure I like the differentiated view/edit modes, because when you’re in edit mode, it’s not obvious that there are options available. I always feel like I’d like to be able to rename the document while I’m in edit mode.

Default and full-screen writing mode

Default and full-screen writing mode

I also find the choice of icons in WriteRoom to be less than ideal:  the document options menu is triggered from an icon that usually indicates sharing options (though I think technically is supposed to indicate “actions”).

Syncing Your Documents

WriteRoom syncs with a service called simpletext.ws, which features a very minimal web interface and a Mac app that behaves somewhat like Dropbox, adding a folder to your User directory. Though the web app syncs consistently, I found the Mac sync folder didn’t update as quickly. The nice thing about simpletext.ws is that you can sign in using your existing Google account.

The simpletext.ws web interface

The simpletext.ws web interface

The developer says that Dropbox integration is eventually planned, so you could view simplenote.ws as a temporary fix. As such, it works well enough, but the Mac app doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence, especially if you’re working with important documents.

Wi-Fi Sharing

WriteRoom also allows you to share your documents over Wi-Fi using Bonjour. I was skeptical about this process, because I’ve never really found any useful purpose for Bonjour, but the Wi-Fi service works quite well.

To access your WriteRoom files, enable Wi-Fi sharing in the iPhone app by clicking the icon in the top left corner of the document list screen. Open up the bookmark manager in Safari, and select the Bonjour tab. If everything is working correctly, you should see “WriteRoom Documents” as a bookmark.

Sharing with Bonjour

Sharing with Bonjour

The Wi-Fi sharing interface is pretty much identical to the simpletext.ws interface (retro Apple-inspired). The only difference between the two sharing methods is that the Wi-Fi sharing doesn’t put your documents in the cloud, so Wi-Fi sharing could be more secure (so long as you set up a password for the app).

Customization

WriteRoom allows you to customize the appearance of your writing environment, letting you control text and background colour, font and text size. WriteRoom also features support for TextExpander if you have it installed on your iPhone, and the ability to toggle its integration.

My customized writing environment

My customized writing environment

Conclusion

I’m a fan of minimalist writing apps on my Mac. I currently use ByWord or just TextEdit, so I predictably enjoyed the similar environment on my iPhone. Though I still find writing on my iPhone to be a bit irritating, WriteRoom is definitely a huge improvement over Notes.

There are some interface and usability issues with WriteRoom that I mentioned before, but the app is so simple that you quickly get used to the interactions. However, for such a minimalistic app — without an ideal syncing solution — I think $4.99 is a bit steep. Similar apps like Write 2 also offer full-screen writing mode and sync, for a lower price ($1.99).

I think WriteRoom definitely has potential, not to mention an already enthusiastic user base. Once the sync solution is improved, I could see myself using WriteRoom to jot down ideas that come to me when I’m away from my computer. What are your thoughts on writing on the iPhone? Do you think typing on a touch screen can ever be a pleasant experience?


Summary

WriteRoom is a distraction-free writing environment for you iPhone, featuring full-screen writing, free syncing and a customizable appearance.

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